THE CANADIAN IRONPERSON TRIATHLON, 1983. After Ironman Hawaii moved from Oahu to the Big Island, it wasn’t long before Valerie Silk found herself having to turn away hundreds of hopeful participants from around the world. She began to search for other locations where the spectacle and experience could be duplicated according to her precise directions, as well as serve as qualifiers for her Hawaiian Ironman World Championship. The venue she needed the most was an event on the North American mainland.
In 1983, Ron Zalko and his colleague Ralph Siegel left registration brochures at the Penticton Chamber of Commerce for what they were calling the Canadian International Ironman Triathlon Championship. I picked one up one day out of curiosity. I had just organized the first Penticton Peach Festival Triathlon and had seen the Hawaiian Championship on television with Julie Moss’s heroic finish that winter. In hindsight, I guess you would say I was the Race Director of the Peach Fest Triathlon but I was so naïve at that time that I thought “race director” was the person who directed traffic!
I immediately called the number on the brochure to say I wanted to be part of it. I spoke with Ralph and I should have been suspicious when, during my first conversation with him, he asked me if I wanted to be the Assistant Race Director. I asked my friends who’d organized the Peach Fest Triathlon if they wanted to be part of organizing a “real” triathlon and they all agreed enthusiastically.
Our small race initially registered only 26 athletes. Only a few days before that first race, a lawyer on the race committee received a phone call from a very irate Valerie Silk. She said that the Ironman Triathlon was her registered trademark and no one could use it without her awarding the licence. She told us to somehow indicate an understanding of that, rather than cancel the race altogether. I immediately changed the name of the race to Ironperson. Valerie was satisfied.
There was an uproar when the news got out that Zalko had taken the Ironman name without permission. Zalko had nothing more to do with triathlons in Penticton from that time on. He complained that I had stolen his race. But as the race committee’s lawyer, Rob Walsh, explained on our local radio station, it was Mr. Zalko who was misappropriating the Ironman name from Valerie Silk.
The hastily renamed Canadian International Ironperson Triathlon was a success despite these last-minute difficulties and Valerie was reassured about our intentions.
I thought that Zalko and I had buried the hatchet but recently, when Penticton gave up its Ironman designation, he began again making claims to Vancouver media about being the founder and architect of Ironman Canada--a race he never organized and a licence he never held.
On the morning of August 20, 1983, one minute before the starting gun went off, Steve King, who went on to become the legendary voice of Ironman Canada, stood beside me shouting words to the effect of, "I wholly disapprove of this race. It’s too dangerous and the community cannot handle it". He told me he had instructed members of the local running club, the Penticton Pounders, to boycott the race. I think he had changed his mind by the end of the swim! He grabbed the mic we had set up at the finish line and has never let it go. Steve became an important part of the success of triathlon in Penticton and the South Okanagan.
The race was a great success. At the awards banquet the next day, I gave a speech that was reproduced in the local newspaper:
After the first race, one of the athletes, Brian Porter, gave me this copy of the fable The Little Red Hen, which I have always kept.
Inside Brian wrote this prophetic dedication to me and one of my race captains, Sybilla Bartram: